Los Angeles-based employers are getting more cautious when it comes to hiring new workers, according to new survey results and regional economists.

For local employers, general uncertainty about the economic outlook for the region and the possibility of more labor unrest next year make it hard to know whether they're going to need additional workers or if they will need to institute layoffs.

In fact, the quarterly Employment Outlook Survey conducted by Manpower Inc. shows that employers in L.A. are more uncertain about their future hiring plans than are employers elsewhere in California.

Statewide, 35 percent of the employers surveyed said they plan to hire additional workers during the first quarter of next year and just 7 percent said they had yet to make a decision about their workforce size.

In Los Angeles, however, only 27 percent said they plan to hire more workers, and 17 percent were undecided.

"It shows that companies here are getting more conservative," said Gilbert Hernandez, a branch manager for Manpower in Encino. "Many of them have done a lot of spending and hiring this year and expect that next year will be slower."

The Manpower survey only takes into consideration changes in the permanent workforce, pointed out Hernandez, and does not include plans to hire or lay off temporary workers.

The regional differences within L.A. County are also revealing when it comes to employers' outlooks. In Long Beach and the South Bay, for example, 50 percent of the employers surveyed said they expect to hire more workers during the first quarter of next year, and only 7 percent expect to cut their workforce. Bulging international trade and a vibrant high-tech industry underlie the optimism of South Bay employers.

By comparison, in Central Los Angeles, 27 percent of those surveyed expect to take on new hires and 25 percent see layoffs ahead. Many non-durable goods manufacturers are located in that area, and there is the continuing pressure to move jobs to low-wage countries, whether it is Mexico or in Southeast Asia.

Perhaps more significant is the high number of companies that simply do not know what the future might bring. Twenty-five percent of the companies surveyed on the Westside and 27 percent of those in the San Gabriel Valley did not know if they would be adding workers or not. The most probable explanation for the unusually high percentage of undecided employers is the possibility of more labor unrest that could disrupt the local economy.

"We've had a rough labor year, and there is the promise of more to come," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "There has been a lot of discussion about a potential motion pictures strike and a teachers' strike, and that might have made people more cautious because they don't know how bad it's going to be."

A strike by the Hollywood actors' and writers' guilds, whose contracts with the studios are up for renewal next year, could have severe ramifications beyond the motion picture industry, because many companies and workers in L.A. indirectly depend on the dollars generated by the multibillion-dollar industry.

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